Man pleads guilty to cold case DeWitt County murder
CUERO - "There was never a doubt in my mind that she didn't do it," said Donald Curlee, brother of murder victim Pamela Shelly.
Shelly's death in 2001 had originally been ruled a suicide, but Tuesday, her former boyfriend, Ronnie Joe Hendrick, 42, pleaded guilty to her murder and will serve 22 years in prison.
Hendrick signed a confession as part of the plea documents.
Shelly's family was satisfied with the agreement.
"We wanted a guilty plea out of it," Curlee said. "We wish it was longer, but we're willing to take it."
The range of punishment for murder is no less than five years or up to 99 years or life and a maximum fine of $10,000.
No fine was assessed in the plea agreement.
Defense attorney Tali Villafranca, of Victoria, who had filed a change of venue motion in the case, said the plea was necessary.
"It was the best thing we could do under the circumstances," he said.
Curlee, along with Shelly's sister, Cynthia Surber, and their father, Carl Curlee, were in the DeWitt County courtroom Tuesday as Hendrick made his plea before District Judge Skipper Koetter.
The DeWitt County Sheriff's Office re-opened the case in 2008 at the insistence of investigator Carl Bowen, who had been a patrol deputy in 2001 and responded to the crime scene.
Hendrick was indicted in October 2012.
"Carl Bowen and the sheriff's department did a tremendous job," said DeWitt County District Attorney Michael Sheppard. "I'm real proud of the police work he did."
Sheriff Jode Zavesky also praised Bowen, who was on the road Tuesday driving Shelly's daughter, Kayla Suggs, and family and friends back to Ashdown, Ark.
"They all let out a yell in the van when I called and told Carl," Zavesky said. "We're very happy. Carl was right. He knew from the get-go that something wasn't quite right and stayed with it and took care of it."
The TNT television show "Cold Justice," which featured the case, premiered six days before jury selection was to begin in the case, and on Monday, Koetter declared a mistrial because of the small jury pool.
Zavesky was grateful for the assistance the television show was able to provide in the case.
"What they really brought was a different set of eyes," said the sheriff.
"Bringing those three sets of eyes in to look at it with a completely different point of view and come to the same conclusion just reinforced what Carl knew all along."